Accepting Body

Catherine Norby poses in low-cut body suit and shorts. Emma Norby/Courtesy

Catherine Norby explores societal standards for beauty and clothing with friends 

There’s a common notion in American societal standards for women and men. Women are expected to maintain innocence, keep it modest in their dress so as to not draw attention, keep the body tight without imperfections. Men are expected to be the protectors, buff and tall, never allowed to express emotion or lean into “femininity.” 

I interviewed and photographed a close group of friends, requesting they show up to our individual sessions wearing clothes they would typically feel self-conscious in. After they were photographed, we sat down to have an open discussion on why they felt uncomfortable in what they were wearing and what would have to change in society in order for them to feel comfortable. 

Taylor Pullan, La Jolla, California, discusses the male gaze and body positivity 

Pictured in: Mid-length v-neck dress and no bra.

Taylor Pullan poses in a dress. Catherine Norby/Lariat

Taylor Pullan lives in La Jolla, California and attends the University of California San Diego. We met on our high school’s cross-country team and though we are more distant now she agreed to do this project with me. I drive down to her apartment and together we walked to a nearby park. 

“I think it’s a little bit more femme than I usually dress and also, like, loose,” Pullan said as she sits in the chair I brought under a tree. “The male gaze directed on me feels a little bit uncomfortable just because this is a little bit revealing so I feel unsafe so I feel like I should be wearing something more conservative I guess.” 

In the park, we get some looks as we set up a chair for the interview. One woman asks us if we were doing a photoshoot, but other than that we remain unbothered. Pullan, however, appears slightly on edge as dog walkers and other pedestrians pass us. 

“As a society we should work so women don’t feel the need to be completely covered to feel safe,” Pullan said. “We should normalize as a society all body types being able to wear whatever the f—— they want without anyone judging or anyone feeling like they’re being judged.” 

Holly Morales, Laguna Niguel, California, discusses the male gaze  

Pictured in: Thigh-high boots, short shorts, tight halter bodysuit and no bra. 

Holly Morales poses in thigh-high boots, shorts and a tight halter top. Catherine Norby/Lariat

Holly Morales and I also met on our high school’s cross-country team. We have been best friends for almost five years and now she attends California State University at Fullerton. I drive to her house for our session. 

“I don’t really have a problem with this outfit necessarily, I think it’s a cute outfit,” Morales said as we sit in her backyard. “I just think I wouldn’t be comfortable wearing it out and about just because of how short the shorts are and the design of the shirt. I’ve worn outfits like this before and I’ve gotten some uncomfortable cat calls, especially if I’m in a group of all girls and guys will roll by.” 

While we have our discussion, I take note of a male construction worker on a ladder in the backyard in the house next door. I watch him smile to himself as he continues with his work after glancing over. 

“If I want to wear what I want to wear, I didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion on it and I think it’s just the fact that you have these people who think I want to hear their imposed opinions on me and I really don’t,” Morales said. “ I think the society we’re in now, even though I feel like we’ve made a lot of milestones when it comes to sexual harassment and making sure no one’s uncomfortable by themselves, regardless of what they wear.” 

Brianna Tade, Laguna Hills, California, discusses the male gaze and the expectation of women to dress conservatively

Pictured in: Tight crop top v-neck, short corduroy skirt and heeled Dr. Martens. 

Brianna Tade poses in a tight shirt and skirt. Catherine Norby/Lariat

Brianna Tade poses in a tight shirt and skirt. Catherine Norby/Lariat


Brianna Tade and I came across each other in our high school French class. Since our graduation in 2019 we have remained friends. I choose to photograph her in a local suburb park where we thought we wouldn’t run into anyone. 

“I never want to wear two tight things on both the top and the bottom,” Tade said as she sits on a chair in the grass. “ I think it’s more of a self-conscious thing.” 

Tade comments that she’s always been taught to cover up, constantly asked to pull shirts down dress more conservatively. In the outfit she wears now, she tells me she saw a man staring at her as we pulled the filming and photography supplies out of my car.

“It’s scary, you’re always looking out for something that seems fishy when you’re going around so I think just the culture of what clothing means and why it shouldn’t really matter needs to become normalized,” Tade said. “When it comes to changing the norm, I’m hopeful for this new generation to change things.” 

Kafka “Buddy” Santillan, Santa Ana, California, discusses male societal standards for color pallets in clothing 

Pictured in: Bright pink shirt, bright blue pants 

Kafka “Buddy” Santillan poses in bright blue pants and a bright pink shirt. Catherine Norby/Lariat

Kafka “Buddy” Santillan and I met on an online dating app in December of 2019. We have been together for almost 10 months now. For our session, I photographed him inside of his apartment. 

“I picked what I’m wearing because it involves two pretty bright colors, turquoise pants and hot pink T-shirt,” Santillan said as we sit in the living room of his one bedroom apartment. “Just the brightness of the colors, you don’t really see these colors worn on really anyone, especially males, so I think that’s what drew me to it in the first place and I guess what gets people to look at me in the streets and be like ‘what is he wearing’.” 

Santillan reports not feeling much discomfort wearing the outfit in public. He refers to the combination as his “spring outfit,” and first wore it for me in February. 

“I don’t think the male has really any of these options in his color pallet in stores and stuff,” Santillan said. “I look at the clothes from the 70s and the 80s and the 60s and how bright and colorful they were, that whole disco era that everyone went through and the hippie phase where everyone was just wearing tie-dyes and it’s like, I don’t think those colors are uncommon. I just think they kind of faded out and now they’re starting to come back in different ways.”